Saturday, September 10, 2011
You Know It's Summer When... You Eat Tomatoes Every Day
Fresh tomatoes are a pure summer delight. The flavor is sweet, the texture firm, and the colors stunning. Though early and late season varieties have been bred to extend the season for tomatoes - I particularly like the ambition of the variety named "Fourth of July" - tomato season in northern New England is a boom time of just one month. (Unless it's a late blight year, like 2009, where tomato season was a complete bust - but that's another story.)
While my first thought of tomatoes evokes Italy, tomatoes are actually native to South America and were cultivated in South and Central America as food crops. European explorers sent the tomato and its Solanaceae family cousins (potatoes, peppers and the important cash crop of tobacco) back across the Atlantic. The Italians and the Spanish embraced the tomato as their own, and in an interesting quirk of history, Americans did not start eating tomatoes until they became popular in Europe. (For more on this, check out this History Channel snippet - click on the picture of the tomato.)
It's the tenth of September now, and just this past two weeks, "all the lights are turning green to red." Unlike the David Grey song, tomatoes turning green to red means that you've got to kick it into high gear. While canning, freezing and drying tomatoes is an excellent way to handle your summer tomato harvest, you've just got to eat a lot of fresh tomatoes while they are at their most summery flavorful ripeness. Especially if you've stopped eating the bland, mealy supermarket tomatoes for the other 11 months of the year, it's practically mandatory to get in while the getting's good.
Right now, the getting is really good - and what's even better, you don't even have to work hard to appreciate the flavor and beauty of fresh tomatoes. I'd like to share 9 simple dishes featuring fresh tomatoes during this "what? more tomatoes?" end-of-summer time. I'm loathe to call these recipes, as there is so little work involved and there are no measurements - and the first doesn't even require a plate.
1) Eat cherry tomatoes by the handful, or eat a ripe heirloom tomato like an apple.You may want to eat the full-sized tomato outside because the seeds have a tendency to go everywhere.
2) Sliced tomatoes with a sprinkling of sugar. Sounds weird, but this was a favorite in my family growing up, and reinforces that tomatoes are indeed fruits, not vegetables.
3) Caprese salad - sliced tomatoes, sliced fresh mozzarella, and basil leaves. We typically dress this with some ground pepper, balsamic vinegar and olive oil over the top.
4) Halved cherry tomatoes mixed with creamy goat cheese and fresh herbs.
5) Oven-roasted plum, grape or cherry tomatoes. Slice in half, toss with olive oil, and put in the oven at 350 until the fragrance from the oven overpowers you (between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the size of your tomatoes). This is excellent to put on top of a piece of meat.
6) Tomato-cucumber-feta salad. Sliced tomatoes and cucumbers with chunks of feta tossed with a little oil and vinegar.
7) Tomatoes with yogurt-dill sauce. Sliced tomatoes or whole cherry tomatoes served next to a dollop of Greek yogurt with fresh or dried dill, garlic powder and onion powder.
8) BLTs! This is the best use of those monster heirloom Brandywines or Cherokees where a single tomato slice will cover the whole piece of bread. This sandwich is so good that we actually made a special trip to buy Boston lettuce so that we could eat BLTs on the front steps on Saturday night.
9) Pa amb tomaquet - I think we are all familiar with Italian cuisine involving tomatoes, but how about a Spanish dish? Barcelona is a beautiful city with its own wonderful Catalan language, and a fabulous, dead easy dish called bread with tomato (pa amb tomaquet). Slice up a baguette or other crusty bread and toast it or grill it. Rub it with a clove of garlic - you want to get chunks of garlic into the holes of the bread. Rub it with a half of a tomato, scraping the tomato flesh into the bread until you have only the skin left. Brush or drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
What's your favorite way to prepare fresh summer tomatoes?